Mary Creagh MP, chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, told The Industry’s inaugural Fashion Futures Forum, in partnership with Avery Dennison, that the fashion industry was “not sustainable” as it is.
Fresh from hearing evidence from big name brands and retailers at an oral evidence session in the House of Commons, which was part of the ongoing inquiry into the UK fashion industry, Creagh told delegates, assembled at White City House, West London: “It’s not sustainable the way it is. Fashion is the third biggest industry in the world after cars and electronics. If it carries on the way it’s growing we just won’t have enough planetary resources.”
“If fashion carries on the way it’s growing we just won’t have enough planetary resources.”
Mary Creagh, MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
“If everyone in the world bought and had as many clothes as we did, there wouldn’t be enough land in the world to grow them. So, we can only enjoy, purchase and own the clothes we do, because someone else, somewhere else, is either not getting paid a decent wage for them and, or, they are not wearing as many clothes as we are,” she said.
Holding up a 10-year old jacket bought on sale from Joseph 10 years ago for £100, Creagh told delegates that while it had a broken zip and a small seam was coming apart on one sleeve, the jacket was still of value. After researching the cost, she said it would be £24 to fix the jacket. Turning to the audience and asking for a show of hands she asked: “Should I repair it or should I buy a new one?” The vote to repair was unanimous.
Launched in the summer Creagh’s inquiry has taken in written evidence submitted by anyone within the fashion industry and has heard evidence in three MP-led sessions in which industry innovators & educators, fashion designers & activists, and finally big name retailers & etailers were summoned to give evidence.
In yesterday’s session Burberry, Marks & Spencer, Primark and Arcadia gave evidence followed by the CEO of ASOS Nick Beighton, the joint CEO of Boohoo Carol Kane and head of product quality and supply at Missguided Paul Smith. Creagh expressed her disappointment at the hearing that Missguided CEO Nitin Passi has declined to attend in person, a point she reiterated to the Fashion Futures Forum delegates.
However she added that she was shocked to hear from Missguided that its auditors had been attacked attempting to inspect a UK factory they were considering using. “Missguided came in and told us that their auditors got beaten up in Leicester when they tried to inspect the factory. If they are beating up the auditors from the company they want to work for then you’ve got to ask what is like for women working in those factories? This is Leicester, not Bangladesh. But this type of modern day slavery is taking place in plain sight and is the bedrock of some of these new upstart brands,” she said.
“If they are beating up the auditors from the company they want to work for then you’ve got to ask what is like for women working in those factories?”
Mary Creagh, MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee
However Creagh did say she felt that ASOS had made some positive strides when it came to ethical and environmental practice. “We also heard from ASOS, who have quite a good audit system that goes all the way down to tier 4. I believe they had some trouble in Barnsley [a warehouse operated on behalf of the etailer by logistics provider XPO] a couple of years ago, and that was the wake-up call. To be fair to them, they’ve really embraced the challenge,” she said.
As well as ethical treatment of industry workers, Creagh said one of the big concerns of the select committee was waste. However she said not enough was being done and the fashion industry was being allowed to regulate itself, which she said was not yielding good enough results.
“There is a sustainable collaboration approach under way. It’s another bit of the fashion industry that’s marking its own homework. It’s a commitment to reduce carbon and waste by 15% by 2020, and water by another amount. They are doing quite well on carbon, and quite well on water, but terribly on waste. Tests and systems need to be put in, because hope and imagination get you nowhere in a trust driven business. It’s going to be a big issue for the industry,” she explained.
“We had Burberry in and we asked them about the burning of £26m worth of stock. We didn’t think that their answer, ‘it all went to renewable energy’, was acceptable,” she said. Burberry has already pledged to stop the practice of destroying unsold stock.
Creagh told the audience that her report would contain recommendations for government (including proposed legislation), as well as advice for consumers and brands and that it would be unveiled during London Fashion Week.
“We try to structure the reports so that they have utility. I don’t really believe in writing documents that nobody reads. We need to work out what the government should do, what we as consumers should do, and what the brands should do,” she explained.
Elsewhere during the Forum speakers including designers Oliver Spencer and Maria Grachvogel, Agent Provocateur co-managing director Sandra Mertens-Lustig, Ninety Percent co-founder Shafiq Hassan, Jonathan Mitchell of Brothers We Stand, Label/Mix chief creative officer Gemma Metheringham, Wrangler director of sustainability Roian Atwood, Bleue Wickham-Burnham of Oliver Spencer, Marco Di Pietro of IdeaPura and Zarah Adato of Marks & Spencer, along with Tamsin Lejeune of the Ethical Fashion Forum discussed issues from the move towards more responsive models, improving traceability and transparency and the shift to more sustainable materials.
Guests in the audience came from high street brands such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Reiss, etailers Amazon and ASOS, as well as independent brands, designers and suppliers. As well as hearing the talks all guests were invited to take part in Avery Dennison’s Customisation Station where the could created their own personalised, sustainably sourced t-shirts, followed by ethically sourced cocktails and canapes in one of London’s most exclusive private members’ clubs.
More reports from Fashion Futures Forum will be published in the coming days. To find out about our future events click here.
Images: Hikaru Funnell for TheIndustry.fashion